Istanbul, the largest city in Turkey, has a unique east-meets-west cultural heritage that is proving appealing to more and more Middle East travellers.
Turkey's largest city, Istanbul (formerly Constantinople) once commanded an empire.
It is Europe's most populous city and effortlessly entwines elements of a modern cosmopolitan hub with rich culture and history.
The Arab market knows this country and feels that Turkey is friendly.
Napoleon once said: "If the earth was a single state, Istanbul would be its capital", referring to the city's unique location.
It sits in the north-west Marmara region of Turkey, straddling two continents - Europe and Asia - creating a potent cultural mix that goes some way towards explaining its enormous appeal to tourists worldwide.
Turkey overall and Istanbul in particular, has witnessed a phenomenal increase in visitor numbers from the Gulf for the first five months of 2008.
Emin Kaya, the cultural and information attaché for Turkey who established a Dubai office in January, says the media coverage he has secured since his appointment combined with investment in big budget TV commercials on Arabic TV channels has driven this growth.
"The Arab market knows this country and feels that Turkey is friendly, but from a tourism perspective, they don't know that it is a tourism destination," concedes Kaya.
"The Arabs usually go to Istanbul and in 2007, the city hosted more than six million tourists, with Middle Eastern clients accounting for approximately two percent of that figure, but it is increasing rapidly all of the time."
"In June for example, Middle Eastern arrivals to Istanbul were up one hundred and fifty three percent over the same period last year - that is a huge upturn."
Kaya claims culturally, there are "many similarities" to be found between the Middle East and Turkey.
"We are planning on hosting some cultural nights in Dubai to highlight those similarities; the things Middle East travellers will be familiar with when they visit Istanbul, but we will also to emphasise the uniqueness of the city," he says.
"There is everything you could want in a city; it has quality hotels, quality shopping, a great culture, fantastic and comprehensive facilities for children, amazing nightlife - it's the best place in the world."
Istanbul has an enormous reputation as a shopping destination with stores selling luxury brand names galore. In addition there's the world-famous Grand Bazaar, a labyrinthine city-within-a-city comprising more than 400 streets.
The more exclusive shops are situated along Kapaliçarsi Caddesi, which leads up to the Nuruosmaniye entrance to the Grand Bazaar.
For handicrafts, ceramics, and gifts displayed in the historic setting of an old medrese (elementary school), clients can head to the Istanbul Handicrafts Centre, Istanbul Sanatlari Çarsisi, which lies directly across from the Blue Mosque and next to the Dervis Tea Gardens.
The Istiklal Caddesi, from Beyoglu to Taksim, is a bustling promenade of cafes, clothing stores, fashion boutiques and bookstores. Recommend a stroll from Tünel to Taksim Square for clients who want to sample the latest trends and fashion offerings.
A short taxi ride away to the north-east of Taksim is the ultra trendy neighborhood of Nisantasi; arguably the most important and well known shopping and fashion centre of Istanbul.The new five-star Park Hyatt Istanbul will open in this district this month, featuring 90 deluxe rooms, and 10 suites including seven Park Suites, one Executive Suite, one Diplomatic Suite and one enormous luxury Presidential Suite.
"Middle East clients love Istanbul for its shopping and its culture," says Park Hyatt Istanbul general manager Tashi Takang.
"At our Hyatt Regency Istanbul property we have seen sales from the Middle East increase fifteen percent this summer - this market loves the diversity this city offers."
There is everything here you could want in a city.
A mark of Istanbul's maturity is the number of international hotel chains currently planning a second or third property in the city, mixed in with a number of independent luxury boutique hotels, all savvy to the needs of Middle Eastern travellers.
Zeynep Demirdönder, international sales and marketing manager for boutique property Sofa Hotels located in Istanbul's fashionable inner city district of Niantaı says its 82-room property has residencies that are "hugely" popular with Middle East clients because they cater to large families.
Demirdönder claims Middle Eastern guests account for approximately 20% of business, and that this figure has been "growing steadily" over the past three years.
There are many well known hotel brand for which to choose in Istanbul, including Movenpick Hotels & Resorts, which boasts three properties in the city, including the Movenpick Hotel Istanbul, described as Istanbul's first boutique business hotel. At the top end, Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts now has two properties in the city - in Sultanahmet and on the Bosphorous.
The former is a boutique property converted from a mansion, located in the historic centre of the city with 65 rooms and the latter, which opened in August, has 175 rooms, is located "at the end of Europe and the beginning of Asia", according to the company's vice president sales and marketing Europe/Middle East and Africa, David Crowl.
Hilton International has three properties in Istanbul; the 590 bedroom five-star Conrad Istanbul, opposite the historic Yildiz Palace; the five-star 498-room Hilton Istanbul on Cumhuriyet Caddesi; and the four-star 117-room Hilton ParkSA on Bayildim Caddesi.
Hilton is aware of the Middle East market's outbound potential, explains the director of business development for Conrad Istanbul, Hilton Istanbul and Hilton ParkSA, Elif Yazoglu.
"We try to make sure we can facilitate the needs of out Middle East guests when they visit our Istanbul properties," says Yazoglu.
"We make sure that we have Arabic television channels; of course they like to have big rooms to stay together as a family and we have suites to facilitate that. We also make sure that we get staff members that speak Arabic so that we can communicate with them fully and understand everything they might require."
Istanbul has been chosen as joint European Capital of Culture for 2010. Having accommodated the Roman Empire, the Byzantine Empire and the Ottoman Empire in the past, the city is virtually an open air museum, so there is no shortage of attractions.
Adorned with some of the finest architectural and artistic wonders in the world, clients will be literally spoilt for choice.
In Aya Sofya Square visitors can take in the stunning Hagia Sophia, built in the sixth century. It was the greatest church in Christendom for more than a thousand years before Mehmet The Conqueror converted it into a mosque that is now a museum considered amongst the best surviving examples of Byzantine architecture.
From the Hagia Sophia, clients can take a brief walk to the north to view the Topkapi Palace where the Ottoman sultans lived and governed in opulent splendor.
Close by is the famous Blue Mosque, next door to which is the must-see ancient Roman Hippodrome.
When feet get tired, there's a chance to relax at one of Istanbul's many Turkish baths, known as hammams. The Suleymaniye Bath in Mimar Sinan Avenue is a historic bath house that was constructed in 1550 and still remains operational today.
Kids activities are plentiful in Istanbul and include a ferry ride from the pier at Eminonu to the tiny Buyukada Island where no cars are allowed and lush gardens provide plenty of space for playtime.
The ferry option also offers great way for the adults to take in all of Istanbul's beautiful architecture at a glance.
Another family favourite is Miniaturk, a park dotted with miniature buildings that make small people feel tall, while there is a chance to feed the ducks and mess about on the lake in Gulhane.
The Grand Bazaar itself is packed with pointy-toed slippers, costumes, spices, leather goods, while the cacophony of sights and sounds that resonate in the market will keep children enthralled. The younger kids will be entertained by the toy museum (Oyuncak Muzesi), off Omerpasa Caddesi in17, in the Goztepe neighbourhood.
It hosts a collection of modern and ancient toys to distract the children and holds a popular magic show on weekends.
There is also the Feshane World Children Entertainment Park, comprising an international fair centre and conference facility, combined with a children's playground and food market.
For older kids, the ice skating rink at the Galleria shopping mall in Atakoy is also worth a mention.
Istanbul is world famous for its party vibe and non-stop nightlife.
The city is awash with entertainment opportunities, from the pulsating dancefloors of the super clubs to the chilled intimacy of smaller clubs and bars.
If this doesn't fit the bill, then there are literally hundreds of little restaurants and cafes to while away the hours eating traditional Turkish mezes (a selection of small Turkish appetizers), drinking strong Turkish coffee or smoking shisha.
For clients seeking more up-scale cuisine options, agents can recommend the The Gelik Et Restaurant in Bakirköy.
The tastefully decorated and well-lit establishment can seat more than 800 diners over two levels.
More adventurous clients may want to sample the various delights of Sultana's Dinner and 1001 Nights Restaurant at 40 Cumhuriyet Caddesi Street.
The restaurant manages to combine belly dancing, folk dancing and traditional Turkish food all in one place.
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